WILMINGTON (CBS) — We all know educators who go the extra mile, but Wilmington English teacher Kristin Smith traveled more than 3,000 miles for her students, and to immerse herself in the life of Charles Dickens.
Smith teaches ‘A Christmas Carol’ to her seventh graders every December. Her love of all things Dickens is obvious to her students. “One of them said to me today, ‘Miss Smith – you know he’s dead, right?” Smith laughs recalling the story.
Dickens may be long gone, but he has never been forgotten by this dedicated teacher who quite literally takes the writer with her everywhere she goes. Hundreds of people follow her Instagram account, @wheresthedickens to follow along on her adventures. “I’ve always had my Dickens action figure,” she says, “and the kids, as my students said they like to treat him like ‘Elf on the Shelf’ sometimes.”
Last summer, the Wilmington Education Foundation gave Miss Smith $1000 grant to travel to London to walk in the footsteps of Charles Dickens and return to her classroom to bring ‘A Christmas Carol’ to life. As the Ghost of Christmas Present would urge her – Smith loved every minute. She traveled to his birthplace, the Dickens Museum, his neighborhood pub – even the ‘Melancholy Tavern’ where Ebenezer Scrooge has his meal on Christmas Eve. “It’s been wonderful telling the kids about what I saw.”
Her photos and knowledge from her UK trip help her explain Victorian England and its culture to her 7th graders as they studied the Christmas classic this winter. “I explain to them about Dickens’ writing style, it’s dense, and that he was paid by the word and that he was desperate and he needed to make some money,” Smith says. “I found a bunch of locations online of places that inspired him to write ‘A Christmas Carol.’ The kids love it – they’re like ‘are you taking him anywhere this summer?’”
“It brings it alive,” says student Joseph Galvin, “and makes it way better than if you just read it on your own.”
What is it about a story written 150 years ago that gets through to her students today? “I think when we did the part about ignorance and want,” she says.
The kinds of warnings from the ghosts to Scrooge about his work like made her seventh graders think about their own immersion in cell phones and technology. “I held up my cell phone and I said, I spend time with my family and I am on my phone, and I realize 20 minutes has gone by, and I’m not present. I actually had one boy say ‘wow – how many hours have I played Fortnite?’”
As for the deepest message Dickens intended – the kids embrace it with no bah humbug.
“No matter what happens in your life,” Galvin adds, “and all the bad things that happen – you’ve got to just go through it and keep pushing and try hard and be as nice as you can to people.”
Nicholas Iasconi will remember “always be grateful for what you have.”
“I like Tiny Tim because of his Christmas spirit he has and no matter, he has so many difficulties but he just wants to live his life and be happy,” says Braeden Almis.